Buffalo’s abuzz over Zack Kassian and Emerson Etem
by Andrew Kulyk (@akulykUSRT) - posted 1:41 pm, December 29, 2010
Emerson Etem talks to the media following USA’s win over Slovakia
Back in November, USA Hockey Jim Johannson boldly predicted that most of the players that fans expect to see at the World Juniors Championships will become NHL regulars and thus household names in a couple of years.
In the case of Kassian and Etem, try a couple of weeks.
At yesterday’s Day 3 of tournament play at HSBC Arena, both players, one for Team Canada and the other for Team USA, garnered most of the attention for their actions both on and off the ice. And both of them handled the controversy with contrition, grace and style as true gentlemen would.
As for the game results, both USA and Canada rolled over their opponents, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, respectively, just raising the temperature of the heated rivalries between these two squads and their fans, and the growing possibility of a Gold Medal showdown. Finland won the opener over Switzerland by a 5-0 score, while over at Dwyer, Sweden took it to the Russians with a 2-0 final, setting up a possible intriguing matchup between the Swedes and the Canadians on New Years Eve for top spot in their pool.
Kassian is property of the Buffalo Sabres, the team having picked him as their number one draft choice a couple years back. He is a sniper who likes to park himself in front of the net, has a good head for the puck, but is also regarded as highly temperamental. Last season he was suspended for 20 games in the Ontario Hockey League for delivering a cheap shot injury to an opposing player. When the Sabres signed him to an entry level contract, concerns regarding anger management and counseling were raised during that process.
So during last night’s second period between Canada and Czech, Kassian delivered an open ice blow to the Czech’s Petr Senkerik. As Senkerik lay motionless and would eventually be carted off the ice via stretcher, Kassian was assessed a 5 minute match penalty, which earns an automatic one game suspension according to IIHF rules, with additional sanctions to possibly follow.
Looking at the replay, this was hardly the kind of play where one player measures another to deliver the classic head shot. It was almost an incidental brush where Kassian delivered a blow to the chin area, yet enough to send a player reeling to the ice.
Down in the press area, grim faced officials from Team Canada deflected questions about the hit, referring queries to the IIHF and stating that they will roll with any consequences or sanctions issued.
Kassian was already in street clothes when he met with the media throng. “I hope he’s alright,” said Kassian referring to Senkerik. “They’ll make some decision, hopefully it will be just one game,” when asked about the possible penalty to be dispensed.
The crowd reaction to Team USA’s Emerson Etem in the nightcap against Slovakia was far harsher. Just a day earlier, Etem ignited controvery when he tweeted about his impressions about Buffalo, calling our city “a ghost town.” The reaction from the public was swift and harsh, and by Wednesday morning he was fielding a deluge of questions from the media about his politically incorrect gaffe.
Etem was booed by the crowd every time he touched the puck. When he notched Team USA’s sixth goal in what would end up as a 6-1 rout of Slovakia, the crowd cheers quickly turned to boos once fans realized who scored the goal.
Following the game, Etem was unfazed by the crowd’s razzing. “I actually fed on the energy, I know what great fans they have here in Buffalo and how passionate they are.”
Etem continued to field questions about his comments, to the point that USA Hockey official Dave Fischer cut in on the press conference and sternly warned that his player had said enough about the issue and would no longer discuss this. Yet Etem, acting with poise and grace, continued to talk. “I said I was so sorry. I didn’t mean anything more than an off the cuff remark and it was just dumb. This is such a great hockey city. Anyone would be lucky to play here. I would just like to put all this behind me and try to win for my country.” When told that Etem joins the ranks of such players as Alexander Ovechkin and Zdeno Chara who get razzed by the Buffalo faithful, Etem laughed and replied, “Wow that’s great company. Perhaps I should be honored. But it’s all part of the game. Again I am sorry for any bad feelings I might have caused to this great host city. Hopefully I have learned from all this.”
Just two games on the Day 4 schedule, both at HSBC Arena. At 3:30PM Finland takes on Germany, followed by Norway v Canada at 7:30PM.
Other happenings from Day 3 –
-All the hub bub over price gouging for parking is true and then some, but don’t lay the blame solely on Mark Croce. Pro Park at the Webster Block was charging patrons by the game, $15 for one game and $40 for an all day session, color coded dashboard placards dispensed to show proof of payment. Other lots peripherally near the arena neighborhood were doing much of the same thing. The sensible advice, and what was not dispensed via printed guide materials and the World Juniors web site, is that abundant parking is available for $6 or so throughout the downtown core, with free metro rail shuttle to the arena. Or for heaven’s sake, is actually walking a few blocks and getting some cardio in such a foreign concept for people?
Then there’s the nuclear option – park at an expired meter and absorb the $36 ticket – still cheaper than handing that red colored fifty to the parking thieves.
– Ticket scanning tweaked and few hitches. Following Sunday’s debacle, where thousands of fans stood outside prior to Game 2 while the arena was cleared and then fans readmitted, arena staff tweaked their procedures, reopening the arena earlier after the conclusion of game 1, adding additional ticket scanning entrances at other points of the arena in the back and at the ramp side, and allowing premium patrons to hang out in the Harbour Club between sessions. This time, things ran much more smoothly.
-Canadian currency at par! If you are looking to get rid of some of your Canadian stash in your bureau drawer, bring it down to the arena, where all points of purchase are accepting Canadian currency at par, and even offering American bux as change. Funny graphic on the HD Board, though. Shows a US dollar and a Canadian dollar side by side, but no, not the loonie that we are all familiar with. Rather an old Canadian paper bill that was removed from circulation – in 1987!!!
-Fight, fight, fight. All kidding and snark aside, there seems to be a pattern emerging regarding Ugly Canadians and it seems to be escalating. Any image of happy candy-striper Canucks wearing beaver hats and passing out maple syrup and heaping plates of poutine? Well forget about it! Several fights in the stands took place during last night’s USA/Slovakia nightcap, and the common denominator seemed to be that one participant was wearing USA colors and the other Team Canada. Folks, make no mistake – These Canadians want their trophy back, and if the expected USA v Canada rematch comes to being, it could be one ugly night come next Wednesday. Let’s hope not.
-Lastly, memo to the USA fans. Much better job last night cheering on the Yanks after Sunday’s opener v Finland, but here at the World Juniors, they do not play any anthems prior to the drop of the puck. What they do is present the national anthem of the WINNING squad at the conclusion of the game. The Canadians know this and everyone sticks around to sing to the heavens. Yet many American patrons bailed prior to the conclusion of the USA presentations. The singing of the anthem in this format is probably one of the true goose bump moments of the tournament, no matter who is the winner. And especially if it is the Star Spangled Banner. Stick around Thursday and Friday and sing, sing, sing.